Underneath your liver is a small sac known as the gallbladder. The gallbladder’s function is to store bile produced by the liver and then pass it along to the small intestine via the bile ducts. Bile is important for digestion because it helps break down fats in the small intestine. There are many different types of gallbladder diseases, but the most common is cholecystitis, which is gallbladder inflammation. Patients often develop cholecystitis due to gallstones blocking the entrance to the bile ducts, causing bile buildup. All gallbladder diseases should be evaluated by a medical professional for treatment, however, gallbladder disease varies widely in severity.
Many different types of gallbladder disorders fall under the umbrella of gallbladder disease, from gallstones to gallbladder cancer. Symptoms can be similar, however, treatment depends upon the type of gallbladder disease and how serious it is. Some of the types of gallbladder disease include:
If gallbladder disease is suspected, your gastroenterologist will take a detailed medical history and provide a physical exam. You may be asked to perform a simple maneuver known as “Murphy’s sign.” To do so, your doctor places their hand where the gallbladder is located while you take a deep breath. If you feel pain, cholecystitis is a distinct possibility. To confirm, your physician will likely order other tests.
An ultrasound can help your doctor see any problems located in the gallbladder as well as your liver. Ultrasound can show gallstones, polyps, thickening of the gallbladder walls, and other markers for gallbladder disease.
A HIDA scan is a diagnostic test that checks for gallbladder disease. A substance will be injected into a vein to see how liquid moves through the gallbladder. During a HIDA scan, your physician may also check how the gallbladder produces bile.
Other tests include X-ray, CT scans, MRIs, and blood tests, depending on the type of gallbladder disease.
Gallbladder disease is often treated with diet and lifestyle changes. If you are overweight, have diabetes, or both, these can greatly increase your chances of gallbladder disease. Your physician is there to help you with weight loss and managing your diabetes.
Opioid medications, such as hydrocodone, are often prescribed for the pain that patients experience from gallstones. Surgery is the first-line treatment for those who have experienced significant, recurrent gallbladder disease or gallstones. This requires removal of the gallbladder, often laparoscopically, so recovery time is shorter and the surgery itself is not as invasive. A specialized endoscopy called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is performed to remove gallstones from the bile ducts.
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